Councilmember Johnson: CSX indicated 25th street viaduct restoration project “is dead”

“It is outrageous for CSX to renege on its public promise to the City of Philadelphia and its people,” Johnson wrote in a letter to CSX CEO James Foote.

The 25th Street Viaduct. | Photo taken from Google Maps.
The 25th Street Viaduct. | Photo taken from Google Maps.

During a February meeting with city officials, CSX indicated that its project to restore the elevated railroad viaduct above 25th Street “is dead,” according to Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson.

“It is outrageous for CSX to renege on its public promise to the City of Philadelphia and its people,” Johnson wrote in a letter to CSX CEO James Foote dated March 12.

Despite Johnson’s claim, CSX spokesperson Sheriee Bowman told SPR that the company “continue[s] to work with the city to achieve an agreeable resolution” to the issues surrounding the viaduct.

Since the project was announced in April 2015, only the first of the project’s four phases, which was to install a protective netting below the structure to catch falling chunks of concrete, has been completed. The next phase was supposed to include fixing the drainage system, but the city and CSX have sparred over who is responsible for the repair of underground sewer traps.

CSX thinks that because the traps aren’t part of the actual structure, it’s not the company’s responsibility. The city argues that “any property connecting to a city sewer is responsible for the maintenance of the lateral,” said streets department spokesperson Keisha McCarty-Skelton in an email to the Review earlier this year. “Property owners are responsible for any repairs to their drainage system and laterals.”

The entirety of the project was supposed to be completed last year.

In Johnson’s letter, he pointed out that CSX doubled its earnings per share and nearly tripled its price per share from the fourth quarter of 2014 to the fourth quarter of 2020.

“Clearly, CSX can afford to fulfill its commitment and complete the 25th Street Viaduct Improvement Project,” Johnson wrote. “It simply does not want to.”

In the statement provided to the Review by Bowman, CSX said that it is reviewing the letter Johnson sent to Foote and “will provide a response,” but didn’t specify when.

“While we acknowledge that there have been delays due to disagreements on areas of responsibility, we continue to work with the city to achieve an agreeable resolution to these issues,” wrote Bowman. “We have spent considerable time meeting with key stakeholders and exploring multiple options. Our goal has always been to find a path forward that addresses the community’s safety concerns and the appropriate level of CSX’s investment.”

In an interview with SPR after the meeting, Johnson said that CSX representatives expressed “budgetary concerns,” about the project.

“I stressed that I was disappointed that they’re not willing to restore the bridge fully,” Johnson told SPR. “They came to the community and made a commitment to restoring the bridge. Obviously, to date, that hasn’t happened.”

As of SPR’s print deadline, there are no scheduled meetings between the city and CSX.

Johnson said that the case is “probably going to arbitration” in his phone call with SPR.

In his letter, he said that he requested the city’s legal department to “explore all available options for legal action.”

For years, residents have complained that the viaduct had become an eyesore in the community.

“The viaduct in general is just in really bad shape from every perspective, from public safety to cleanliness,” West Passyunk Neighbors Association President James Gitto told SPR back in January. “It’s resulted in illegal dumping, and you’ll see construction debris, tires and abandoned trailers under there. It’s been a constant topic every week for our neighborhood association.”

In the statement provided by Bowman, CSX said its “top priority” is safety.

“Our primary focus is on maintaining the safety and structural integrity of our infrastructure,” said the statement. “CSX began work on the 25th Street viaduct in 2015 and we have completed various phases of the project to ensure the safe operation of rail traffic and the safety of the South Philadelphia community.”

However, there was nothing in the statement about improving the quality of life for residents or making the viaduct more presentable from an aesthetic standpoint. 

The lone silver lining to the city’s meeting with CSX is that, according to Johnson, “preliminary conversations” are being had about restoring the light signals underneath the bridge, which had previously been replaced by stop signs when the netting was installed.

However, “nothing is confirmed yet,” said Johnson.